February 17, 1995 at 05:00 AM EST

Ask TimeCop‘s Jean-Claude Van Damme about the first movie role he landed in the U.S., and he’s likely to start talking about Ivan, the villain he played in 1986’s No Retreat, No Surrender. Like other stars who edit their filmographies, Van Damme is less than eager to plug Gay Karate Man, his character in the 1984 curiosity Monaco Forever (BRI, unrated, $29.95).

Credited as ”Jean Claude Vandam,” the Muscles from Brussels makes a brief but memorable appearance in this low-budget, 48-minute short. Three minutes into the story of an ex-Nazi jewel thief (Charles Pitt) stealing through Monaco in 1956, Van Damme gives Pitt a lift in his Jaguar. In a French- speaking role, Van Damme makes flourishes with his hand, pronounces the sky ”formi-DAH-ble,” and starts grabbing at Pitt’s thigh. When Pitt pulls the emergency brake and challenges the flirtatious driver to a fight, the barefoot Van Damme cows him by showing off a few of his now-famous kicks, then flounces off as a humiliated Pitt heads for the hills.

Both Pitt and director William A. Levey say it was a pleasure to work with the then-23-year-old Van Damme, who shot his scene in one day of a six-day shoot near Los Angeles. ”Very professional,” Pitt remembers. ”Usually when you shoot [a fight], they don’t come that close. But his feet came closer than you actually see on film.”

”I think it’s the most animated he’s ever been,” says Levey, ”probably because he was able to speak his native language. But he was very relaxed and real.” And Levey knows his talent: He cast both Debra Winger and Patrick Swayze in their first movies — Slumber Party ’57 (1977) and Skatetown, U.S.A. (1979), respectively.

Van Damme, whose publicist said the actor was too busy to comment, apparently doesn’t remember the experience as fondly, according to distributor Marc Bruder, who released Monaco on tape on the coattails of Hard Target. Bruder says he was contacted by ”Van Damme’s people” about a month before its appearance: ”If I remember correctly, it was like, ‘What can be done not to release that?’ I asked for a specified [sum of money], and they never got back to us.” Maybe so, but if Van Damme really could reenter the past, it seems likely that the negative of Monaco Forever would be his first target.

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